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September 19, 2017

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North Korea's new leader makes diplomatic debut

SEOUL -- North Korea's new leader hosted a dinner in Pyongyang for senior political officials visiting from China, state media said Friday, in what marked Kim Jong Un's diplomatic debut and a sign that he is turning his attention to foreign affairs.

Kim talked with a Chinese delegation led by Wang Jiarui, head of the Communist Party's international affairs office, and then invited the group to a dinner attended by North Korea's political elite, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

Kim told Wang that the North Korean government is focused on boosting the economy, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.

The meeting marks Kim's first official diplomatic foray since he took over as leader following the December death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

He also has been quick to show his rule will differ in focus and style from that of his father, who kept his personal life out of the state media, rarely traveled abroad and met only selectively with foreign dignitaries.

At Thursday's talks with the Chinese, he reiterated his government's focus on building the economy, according to Xinhua. Seated next to him was Vice Premier Kang Sok Ju, the seasoned diplomat who accompanied Kim's father to China last year.

"Developing the economy and improving livelihoods so that the (North) Korean people lead happy and civilized lives is the goal the Workers' Party is struggling towards," the news agency reported Kim as telling Wang.

Kim Jong Un has yet to make his first trip abroad as leader but is widely expected to follow his grandfather's footsteps by traveling overseas.

He already has demonstrated more of a willingness to rub shoulders with foreigners, including Westerners, than his father.

Foreign diplomats and officials were among those invited to attend the opening ceremony late last month of the new Rungna Island fairgrounds.

One KCNA photo showed a British diplomat, Barnaby Jones, seated on a roller coaster one row from Kim — an image that sparked speculation in foreign media about Kim's mysterious foreign friend.

Footage aired on state TV on Friday also showed ambassadors and other foreign officials seated just a few rows behind Kim at a dolphin show.

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